Friday, November 09, 2007

A mark-up in Price

While Stanley Robinson has (deservedly) got the bulk of the ink following his 10-point, 13-rebound, 6-assist display of boundless athleticism Thursday night, A.J. Price's performance has been lost in the shuffle a little bit.

Price was rewarded as the Storrs Regional's MVP after scoring a career-high 24 points in Thursday's win over Buffalo and dishing out a career-best 9 assists in Wednesday's win over Morgan State.

"That's what we think of -- a point guard who can score," coach Jim Calhoun said after UConn advanced to next week's semifinal-round game with upstart Gardner-Webb at Madison Square Garden. "(Price) showed both aspects in two games."

When Calhoun talked about the Huskies getting more scoring out of their point guard position a couple of weeks ago, it seemed he may have been referring to Jerome Dyson, who took over the starting point guard role for UConn's exhibition opener last week against Assumption. But Price popped off the bench for a game-high 22 points that night and has been starting at the point ever since. And that's good news for the Huskies.

This team is best-served with Price at the point and Dyson at the two. Dyson is a decent shooter but is at his best utilizing his athleticism slashing to the hoop and getting out on the break for transition points. Price runs the offense better at the point. Both players have shown impressive on-the-ball defensive skills early on -- Price has six steals in the first two games, Dyson has four, and both have come up with the type of swipes that are borderline reach-ins, a la ex-Providence defensive maestro John Linehan (spoken like a guy who used to cover the Friars).

The other eye-opening stat from Thursday night -- 15 blocked shots (after swatting away 10 the previous night). And only four of those 25 blocks so far have come from 7-3 center Hasheem Thabeet, who still hasn't really established himself as the defensive force he was last year. Jeff Adrien blocked seven shots against Morgan State and Robinson had six vs. Buffalo.

"I was overall happy with the fact that we ran, and with the fact that we started forcing the ball to the middle again, which leads to our shot-blocking ability to come into play," Calhoun said Thursday night.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

UConn 69, Morgan State 65

Here's last night's game story, which only appeared in the Register's print editions today:

By David Borges
Register staff
STORRS --- If anything has been proven in the infancy of the 2007-08 college basketball season it's that the discrepancy between the top-tier teams and the rest of the pack – even between Division I and Division II programs – has dwindled considerably.

Both Michigan State and Ohio State have lost exhibition games to Division II – yes, Division II – teams. Heck, Holy Cross – the team University of Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun didn't want to face in the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic – lost last week to a Division III team, Rhode Island College.

In their season-opener on Wednesday night, Calhoun's Huskies were further proof of the greater parity that currently exists in college basketball.

UConn managed to eke out a 69-65 win over Morgan State in the second game of a 2K Sports College Hoops Classic doubleheader before a crowd of 9,711 at Gampel Pavilion. But the Huskies let a 16-point second-half lead dwindle down to nothing, hit just 3 of 15 3-pointers and allowed 20 offensive rebounds to a team that fielded just one starter over 6-foot-5.

"That's where we are in college basketball right now," Calhoun reasoned. "I don't know if there's a special team out there. Maybe UNC is, maybe UCLA is. But our 2004 team with Emeka (Okafor), six pros – that was a special team that could do a lot of different things."

This is not your 2004 Huskies. For much of the game, this wasn't even your 2006-07 Huskies, a team that could at least defend as well as anyone around. On Wednesday, when the Bears weren't hitting 11 of 22 3-pointers, they were driving the lane for running jumpers with little fear of their shots being blocked.

Hasheem Thabeet, the 7-foot-3 center, was a hardly a presence on either end of the floor (three points, two blocked shots), while 6-9 forward Stanley Robinson was even more invisible. Robinson went scoreless with five turnovers in 13 minutes of play.

"Whatever minutes he got were probably three more than he deserved," said Calhoun.
Of course, it wasn't all bad for UConn. At least the Huskies won: Kentucky, playing at home, lost its first-round game to Gardner-Webb on Wednesday night.

Jerome Dyson scored a game-high 20 points, Jeff Adrien had a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds), and Curtis Kelly came up big with 13 points (one below the sophomore's career-high) and nine boards and hit 7-of-7 free throws for UConn.

"He was good and bad," Calhoun said of Kelly. "He was getting lit up on defense, but in turn he got us some good things on offense."

Still, no one did as many good things as Morgan State's Reggie Holmes, who popped off the bench to hit 6 of 9 3-pointers and finish with 18 points. Holmes hit back-to-back treys, the latter a spot-up with 6:50 to play, to complete the Bears' 24-8 run and tie the game at 52-52.

Kelly responded with five consecutive points, including a conventional 3-point play, and back-to-back treys by Dyson and Doug Wiggins put UConn up, 64-57, with 3:41 left.

But Morgan State kept coming, and with 39 seconds left, Marquise Kately drove in for a layup that would have brought the Bears to within two.

However, the ball rolled in and out of the cylinder, Kelly corralled the rebound and UConn hit three of four foul shots the rest of the way to seal the win.

"I felt like we were in control of the game the whole game, but it was a little bit too close for comfort," insisted guard Craig Austrie (eight points). "No one was satisfied with this win. We have (tonight) to come out and prove to ourselves that we're a much better team than what we showed."

Of course, it also didn't hurt that UConn shot 33 free throws to Morgan State's 9, even though the Huskies played man-to-man and the Bears a zone defense the whole night.

Now, UConn faces Buffalo, another D-I team that was nearly knocked off by a D-II team in Wednesday night's opener. The Bulls escaped with an 89-82 win over Ohio Valley.
Such is the current state of college basketball.

"There's not that drastic difference among teams," Calhoun said. "The three-point shot is a great equalizer. (Holmes) comes off the bench and just lights it up. That's what happens, that's why you've got to be prepared every single night."

RIM RATTLINGS: The Big East Conference announced on Wednesday that all 16 of its schools will be invited to the league's men's and women's basketball championship tournaments starting next year. Currently, the top 12 teams in the regular season advance. Said Calhoun in a statement: "Since the league expanded to 16 teams, I have felt that the 12-team format for the tournament ostracized the programs, coaches and especially the players of the teams that were excluded in New York … I congratulate the league presidents and athletic directors for this move."
* Kemba Walker, a 2008 UConn commit, will be at tonight's game while on an official visit to the school.

David Borges may be reached at

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Sweet 16

Starting in 2009, all 16 Big East schools will be invited to the men's and women's basketball championship tournaments. This action was voted on and approved by the presidents of the Big East Conference at its annual meeting on Tuesday in Philadelphia.

Currently, the top 12 teams in the final regular-season standings advance to participate in the men’s and women’s championships. The men’s championship is held at Madison Square Garden, the women's at the Hartford Civic Center.

Early this afternoon, UConn released Jim Calhoun's thoughts on the change:

“Since the league expanded to 16 teams, I have felt that the 12-team format for the tournament ostracized the programs, coaches and especially the players of the teams that were excluded from going to New York. The experience of playing in Madison Square Garden and all that is associated with the history of our tournament in New York City needed to be something that every team in our league could be a part of. For that reason, I have lobbied very hard for this to happen. I congratulate the League Presidents and Athletic Directors for this move that benefits every basketball student-athlete in the BIG EAST.”

The new format will have the teams seeded 9 through 16 meet on the first day of competition.
The winners of those four games will meet seeds 5 through 8 on the second day of play.

Those four winners will advance to play the top four seeds in the quarterfinal round. Thus, the top four seeded teams still will not play until the quarterfinals, which occurs in the current 12-team format.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

I Can See (Nate) Miles

Chris Chaney, who coaches UConn commit Nate Miles at The Patterson School in North Carolina, said Tuesday that there's a "50-50 chance" that Miles could be enrolled at UConn by the start of next semester.

"It's something that's been talked about," said Chaney. "Obviously, he's still got to get qualified academically. We'll wait and see on that situation. He's got to do what he's got to do grade-wise and SAT-wise."

If Miles can get enrolled, the 6-foot-7 "point forward" could be an immediate help to this year's Husky team.

"He's got good basketball I.Q., he's a scorer, a very good shooter," Chaney said. "He's got a very good feel for the game. The thing he needs is to get stronger and tougher defensively, but with all that stuff, he's trying do it."

Chaney added:
  • Miles is playing well right now and doing "things I don't think he's ever been told to do," like diving for loose balls, grabbing defensive rebounds and taking charges.
  • Miles was suspended from Patterson's season-opening scrimmage with Oak Hill Academy a few weeks ago, but Chaney said it was no big deal. "He wasn't doing what he had to do. We push our kids pretty hard, we expect the best out of them. He just wasn't doing what he needed to do."
  • Miles has already taken the SAT once and will take it again soon. Even if he qualifies, he's still got to go through the NCAA Clearinghouse, which could take several weeks.
  • Even if Miles joins the Huskies this winter, he may not be with the program for long, as the NBA is on his mind. "I'm sure, like everybody nowadays, he'll want to get out as soon as possible. I think very highly of the Connecticut coaching staff, and I know they're going to get him to be the player he needs to be. He's going to be an NBA player one of these days if he does what he's got to do. The question is, when? He has the ability to be one-and-done, but he's got to prove it."

Read the full story in tomorrow's New Haven Register.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Marcus Johnson transferring

Marcus Johnson is no longer a member of the UConn men's basketball team. Here's the press release sent out by UConn not long ago:

University of Connecticut junior Marcus Johnson (Los Angeles, Calif.) has asked for permission to speak to other schools and will be transferring from the University, it was announced by Head Coach Jim Calhoun Monday afternoon.

Johnson will complete the fall academic semester at UConn, but will no longer be a member of the basketball program.

“Marcus came to see me today and told me that he felt it was in his best interests to find another school to attend and to play basketball,” said Calhoun. “I know he has a desire to maximize his playing time and also to get closer to home, so he felt this was the best decision for him at this time. I wish him nothing but the best as a person and as a basketball player.”

“I enjoyed my time here at UConn,” said Johnson. “I appreciate everything that my teammates and coaches have done for me and hope they have plenty of success this season.”

Johnson did not appear in yesterday’s exhibition contest against Bryant due to an injured right elbow. He is scheduled to undergo an MRI and x-rays on his elbow later this week. He did appear in UConn’s exhibition on November 1 against Assumption, playing six minutes and scoring three points.

Johnson appeared in 51 games in his two seasons, starting 24. He had a career average of 4.9 points per game and shot 50.0% from the field. As a sophomore in 2006-07, Johnson appeared in all 31 games, starting at small forward position in 19 contests. He averaged 5.5 points and 3.0 rebounds in 16.7 minutes per game, reaching double-figures seven times and leading the team in steals on eight occasions.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Johnson still hurt

Marcus Johnson won't be in uniform for today's exhibition game with Bryant University. Johnson is still bothered by a right elbow injury suffered three weeks ago during First Night. He hurt the elbow while throwing down a dunk -- not during the dunk competition, but during the scrimmage vs. UConn students.

The 6-foot-6 junior forward will likely have an MRI on Monday.